CW Hawes - Author

Book Review: Defiant, She Advanced

When it comes to political and economic theory, I place myself in the libertarian camp. To my mind the rights of the individual trumps all. I’m opposed to collectivism and statism in all its forms. It does not take a village to raise a child. IMHO 🙂

And even though Ayn Rand was quite popular in my college days, I never read any of her books. Consequently, libertarian fiction is new to me. So when I ran across George Donnelly’s short story series, There Will Be Liberty, I decided to buy both books. After all, sci-fi and libertarianism—how cool is that?

I finished reading Defiant, She Advanced: Legends Of Future Resistance a week or two ago and decided to review it. As with all short story collections, some stories are better than others. Better in my eyes, that is. Because, as we all know, what is good or bad, beautiful or ugly, is all a matter of opinion.

So let’s take a look at the short story collection Defiant, She Advanced and see how it stakes up against the competition and let’s begin with me giving you a tiny taste of the flavors that you’ll find in this collection. Then be sure to get a copy and decide for yourself!

“The Slow Suicide of Living Again” by Wendy McElroy leads off the book. The story is the most overtly libertarian of the bunch, but that isn’t bad. Wendy’s done a great job of integrating libertarian thought with the storyline and making it flow as a coherent whole. The tale begins with a restitution agent describing a tense scene where she barely escapes from sex traffickers. But that’s the least of Mackenzie Jones’s problems. For her world is soon turned upside down and reality…? Well, what is reality anyway? A very memorable story. Perhaps the best in the collection.

Stories of good guys versus bad guys are usually told from the perspective of the good guy. “Thompson’s Stand” by Jake Antares tells the story of a rebellion against authority from the perspective of the bad guy. A tale of surprising compassion.

“Under the Heel of the Aether Imperium” by J P Medved is a steampunk space opera, with all the things we love best in those two sub-genres. It is a fun-filled, rollicking adventure yarn. This story is complete, yet sets the stage for an ongoing series.

William F Wu’s “Yellowsea Yank” is another steampunk adventure. This one, though, is set on earth, in China, and is filled with action, adventure, mystery, suspense, romance, and mistaken identity. What’s not to like?

1984 is perhaps the most terrifying picture of totalitarianism ever written. George Donnelly, in “Doubleplusunhate”, gives us an Orwellian story that is dark and disturbing. Make sure your teddy bear or comfy blanket are nearby.

Steampunk and the Western frontier seem to go together. Jack McDonald Burnett’s retro-future “Get Kidd to Bounty” gives us the Old West atmosphere in steampunk trappings and does so admirably. This is a classic escape story and will keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s also thought-provoking. One of the best in the collection.

For me, Robert S Hirsch’s “The Intruder” was weak. A rather predictable revenge story, with a techno-fight scene that I didn’t find all that interesting. This was probably the weakest story in the collection.

The writing in Jonathan David Baird’s “Workaday” was very good. Unfortunately, I thought the story suffered from being too short. The storyline needed some fleshing out, because too much seemed to be left unanswered. It just seemed too contrived and sketchy to me. The writing was good, I just wished there was more of it.

“Flourescence” by J P Medved was quite different from his other story in this collection. A dystopian fantasy about a girl with a very special grandmother. The story addresses the issue of authority versus the individual. I found it thought-provoking.

The collection concludes with a long story by George Donnelley, “The Death Shop”. The tone of this science fiction story is dystopian and the story ends with a surprising twist. Even now, reflecting on this tale, I’m not sure what to make of it. I found it disturbing and it left me… Well, I’m not sure. I guess, if anything, questioning what is real and what is a dream. Read it for yourself and see what you think.

All in all, Defiant, She Advanced: Legends of Future Resistance (There Will Be Liberty, Book 1) was worth the money. There is good thought-provoking, as well as fun, entertainment here. The libertarian thought, while present, was not in your face. No preaching here. Hats off to Mr Donnelly for achieving an excellent balance in good storytelling and in presenting political/economic thought. I recommend you get yourself a copy. I don’t think you’ll be sorry. I’m looking forward to reading the second book in the series.

Comments always welcome! Until next time, happy reading!

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Fast Writing: Additional Thoughts

Last week we talked about fast writing. This week I want to riff on some of those points we made.

For years now, I’ve maintained “The First Draft” is a myth. There’s no need for it or the accompanying second, third, fourth, fifth, etc drafts. The multiple draft approach is an Academic Belief System all wannabe writers are taught to believe by people who don’t write for a living. It has no basis in reality. At least the reality of those who write fiction for a living.

The belief system of Academia and the editors in the traditional publishing world believe this formula:

Slow Writing = Good Writing.

Or conversely, Fast Writing = Bad Writing.

This is a belief system. A religion. It is not The Truth. It has no basis in reality. It’s no different than belief in God. No one can prove there is or isn’t a God. One either believes there is a God or believes there isn’t one. Simple as that.

We writers can choose to believe the myth about fast and slow writing or we can choose not to believe it. For myself, I don’t believe it.

In high school and college, as a matter of course, mostly due to time pressure is my guess, I wrote out my papers and essays by hand. Then I typed them, editing as I went along. When I was done, I submitted. No first draft, second draft baloney. There was no time. And I’m pleased to say, I never got poor marks on my papers.

But for some odd reason, I didn’t apply that intuitive course of action to my fiction writing. I struggled trying to make it perfect. To do all of the “right” things. And consequently, I got nothing written.

Nearly 40 years ago now, I read a book on writing advice. I don’t remember the title, author, or anything about it except the summary of how Isaac Asimov wrote and his advice for writers. It went something like this:

  • Write every day — whether or not you feel like it.
  • Write simply.
  • Forget the critics.
  • Don’t rewrite. That’s what editors are for. This point was Asimov’s restatement of Robert Heinlein’s 3rd Rule of Writing, something I learned later. Asimov didn’t rewrite unless his editor demanded it. Asimov followed what, in business, is called the OHIO rule: Only Handle It Once. And it does work for writers. I practiced it with my essays for school.
  • Don’t use an agent. Because you make more money if you don’t. I.E., you aren’t paying the agent his or her commission.

That book and the brief bit of information from Isaac Asimov was my first introduction to prolific writing. And I loved the concept!

But for some reason, I still didn’t apply it to my fiction. And nothing got written.

Later on, I learned about the Victorian speed demon, Anthony Trollope. I learned Heinlein’s 5 Rules of Writing. I was awed by the fabulous production of Robert E Howard in his very short writing career. And I learned one thing about myself: I needed to be like them. I needed to be a fast writer.

In 1989, I wrote a novel. The process took me a year. I didn’t really know what I was doing. But I did get it written while working full time and learning the ins and outs of raising a very young child. After a few rejections of my query, I set the work aside. I decided it wasn’t up to standard. And in truth, it wasn’t. I didn’t quite have down how to write a good story. I also came to the decision, I couldn’t write longer works of fiction. They took up too much time. So I turned to poetry. And that worked.

For a span of fifteen or so years I wrote thousands of poems, following Asimov’s advice. I was a prolific poet and got hundreds of poems published. But I tired of poetry and wanted to write what I’d always wanted to write and that was fiction. So once again I turned to novel writing. And once again I stubbed my toe on another myth — that of the outline. And no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get an outline to work. Every time I took my wonderful character or story idea and tried to outline the book, I suddenly lost all inspiration. It vanished.

Then I stumbled upon Kazuo Ishiguro and Yasujirō Ozu and the plotless novel and movie. To be fair, their books and movies aren’t without plot. The storyline, though, is minor. What is important are the character studies taking place on the page and screen. That was what broke the ice. I liked reading about characters. I could not care less about the story. I want interesting characters.

Suddenly, I felt free. There were no restrictions. Just write. Do what Ray Bradbury advised: create your characters, have them do their thing, and that’s your story. Simple as that. The words have been flowing like a flood from my pen ever since.

But getting back to Asimov, there was one “rule” he didn’t articulate but is clearly implied in his methodology — and which I follow. Namely, write it right the first time.

How does one write it right the first time? Confidence. You must be confident you know the basics of good writing. You must be confident you can tell a reasonably good story.

I’m not referring here to deeply profound writing. Or writing that is symbolic or “literary”, whatever that means. Or writing that is approved by Academia. I’m not referring here to writing that will win you the Pulitzer or Nobel or Booker awards. I’m referring here to good writing that will hopefully earn you a few bucks and maybe a lot of bucks. Straightforward writing that tells a good story.

Shakespeare did not set out to become the doyen of English literature. He was writing to make a buck. He used prefab storylines and created memorable characters and wrote some doggone good dialogue. But his main goal was to make a buck to support his family, mistress, and keep his theatre afloat. Shakespeare had confidence he could tell a good story.

The critics hated Isaac Asimov and ridiculed his very simple and straightforward writing style. However, the readers loved him and Asimov himself undoubtedly laughed at his critics all the way to the bank. Why? Because he told a good story. Was it a perfect story? No. And he would have been the first to admit it. But the story was good. In fact, Asimov wrote once that he tried to follow the multiple draft method and couldn’t. He liked what he wrote on the first draft and didn’t see any way he could improve it. Besides, it was a waste of time — if he wanted to be prolific and make a buck. Asimov had confidence.

Dean Wesley Smith tells an interesting anecdote from back when he was part of the traditional publisher world. He wrote a novel and his editor sent it back with a list of rewrites. Smith agreed with most of them and spent a day making the fixes. He was getting ready to send the typescript back when his wife told him to wait 3 weeks. Why? Because if Smith sent it back right away, following the “Slow Writing = Good Writing” myth, the editor would reject his work. He’d done the rewrites too quickly. So Smith waited. After 3 weeks he sent the typescript back and the editor praised his work and how quickly he’d made the fixes. Smith laughed. In those three weeks he’d almost finished another novel!

So what’s my point here? Here it is in a nutshell:

  • Learn the writing craft. Know your grammar and know the basics of good storytelling. If you don’t know those basics, you will not be able to tell good stories no matter how many rewrites you grind out.
  • Write every day — even if you don’t feel like it. Routine is good. Stick to it.
  • Don’t pot around worrying about outline and plot twists and all the other hoopla. Just write the story. Create your characters, put them in a fix or give them a problem to solve and then start writing. You will learn in the course of writing. We are writers. Not rewriters. When I read of writers who LOVE editing and rewriting… Well, there is something wrong there. IMO.
  • When done, reread to make sure your story is coherent and to catch typos, grammar issues, and any clunky sentences you may have written. But the sake of everything that is of value to you, don’t rewrite the thing. IMO, if you have to rewrite then you don’t know how to tell a story. Yeah, I know, that’s harsh. But it is just my opinion. The choice is yours: pot around rewriting, or get it right the first time and try to make a buck.

I’ve written and/or published in the span of 2 years, 11 novels, 6 novellas, 16 short stories, and a weekly blog. Are there better writers out there than me? Certainly. Are there worse writers? Sure are. But am I a good writer? Like Asimov, when I look at a story or novel I’ve just completed I like it. Do I tweak it? Usually. But I don’t rewrite. I just fix the little things like typos and grammar mistakes and maybe reword a sentence or two if they come off sounding clunky. That’s it. If the beta readers spot a big issue, I’ll fix that. Following Asimov and Heinlein, I only rewrite if my “editors” insist on it. And the so called rewrite is usually only a paragraph or so.

That’s the secret to fast writing. Go out there and tell your stories. Because only YOU can tell YOUR stories.

Comments are always welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

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Writing Fast: To Go Where Few Of Today’s Writers Have Gone Before

If you are a writer, I’m going to save you at least a buck today. A buck might not be much, but save enough of them and you can retire.

The other day I ran across a podcast interviewing Rachel Aaron, “Miss 10K Words A Day”. After reading through the transcript of the interview I decided to check out her blog. I found the original post from 2011 in which she outlined her system for writing 10,000 words a day. After reading it, I came away singularly unimpressed. There was nothing new there. Which is so often the case with writing advice. As the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun”.

Now my intention is not to put down Ms Aaron. After all she’s radically increased her word count per day — and tossed onto the rubbish heap the myth that fast writing is bad writing. And I say, Good for her! But what’s apparent to me is that she’s young and has little knowledge of the fact high word counts for writers used to be very much the norm. They had to be. Those writers of the pulp era wrote for a living. Every word they wrote was money in their pocket. No words on the page, no money. It was that simple.

Ms Aaron also writes for a living and she too has discovered fast writing is one of the keys to making a livable wage from the writing of fiction. But fast writing is nothing new, although I get the impression she seems to think so.

Nevertheless, she’s come up with a system, a good system by the way, and is willing to sell it to you for 99¢. Which is very generous on her part. Some writing gurus charge a whole lot more for a whole lot less.

But everything she has to say can be gotten for FREE on the Internet. Starting with her own blog post in 2011.

Michael Moorcock

Michael Moorcock, that prodigious writer of science fiction and fantasy, used to write novels in three days. Karen Woodward outlines how he did it in a blog post from 2014. And you can find another article at wetasphalt.com.

The Guardian, in 2010, presented Moorcock’s “Ten Rules For Writers”. Wonderful advice from a master.

The articles above are all free, just click on the links, and if you follow the advice you will increase your daily word count substantially.

Lester Dent

But Moorcock didn’t come up with his method all by himself. He got it from Lester Dent, a pulp era writer with a fantastic output. Dent was the creator of Doc Savage. If you’ve never read Doc Savage, you are missing out on a classic.

Karen Woodward has a fabulous series of blog posts on Lester Dent’s method of fast writing. The first one is “Lester Dent’s Short Story Master Formula”. The links to the other four articles are at the bottom of the initial post. And note, the formula works equally well for novels. A shorter version of Dent’s formula can be found at Dirty 30s! on paper-dragon.com. And once again, this information is all free!

Anthony Trollope

But fast writing didn’t originate during the pulp fiction era either. It began much earlier. Alexandre Dumas (1802 – 1870) made frequent use of assistants and collaborators to increase his production. Which is, of course, a time honored method of doing so. James Patterson does it today.

One of my favorite authors, Anthony Trollope (1815 – 1882), in a writing career that spanned 37 years, produced 35 standalone novels, two 6-novel series, 42 short stories, 2 plays, 18 works of non-fiction, and 3 articles, as well as keeping up a voluminous correspondence. Without the help of assistants or collaborators. How did he do it? Quite simple, really.

For most of his writing career, Trollope worked a full-time job at the post office. Which meant he had to make the most of his time. He’d get up 2 1/2 hours before he had to leave for his day job in order to have time to write. The first half-hour he reviewed what he wrote the previous day. For the next two hours, he wrote.

He wrote by the clock. Literally. There was a clock on his desk. He wrote, by hand, with a dip pen, 250 words every 15 minutes. Or 2000 words in those two hours. He did that every day.

If during the two hours he completed the novel he was working on, he took out a fresh sheet of paper and began the next one. What that tells me is he had the story idea already in his head or written down somewhere. The key is he didn’t have to think about it. It was already there.

Trollope also kept a journal in which he recorded his daily word count. The purpose was to catch himself if he started slacking off.

Let’s summarize Trollope’s method:

  1. Have the storyline in your head, at the very least. Jot a few notes, if you need to. Moorcock and Dent did the same thing by writing in fictional universes they’d already created in detail. They didn’t have to figure out stuff on the fly.
  2. Set aside a regular time and place to write EVERY DAY. This is one of the secrets Rachel Aaron discovered and used to increase her word count.
  3. Review the previous day’s work to prime the pump and get the juices flowing. This is akin to warming up exercises before a person goes jogging.
  4. Don’t dawdle. Write quickly and get the words down. If you need notes or an outline in order to do so, then take a few minutes to jot them down. Writers often get bogged down when they have to spend time thinking about what they are going to write instead of writing it. Another secret Ms Aaron discovered.
  5. Record your progress. That way, if you find you are falling behind, you can easily pinpoint why and correct the problem. This is another one of the secrets Ms Aaron discovered, which I am passing along to you.

There you have it, Anthony Trollope’s secret to speedy writing. The granddaddy of speedy writers. You also now know Michael Moorcock’s method, Lester Dent’s method, and Rachel Aaron’s method of speedy writing. And all for FREE! You’ve just saved yourself a buck.

The secret to fast writing is no secret. Writers have been writing quickly for many, many decades. As Dean Wesley Smith has pointed out, it is the traditional publishing world and academia that has made us think fast writing equals hack writing. I am very glad Rachel Aaron has discovered the secret to fast writing and is popularizing it. But it has never been a secret. It’s just been demonized by those who didn’t and don’t write for a living.

So get out your pencil, pen, or keyboard and start writing. You’ve nothing to lose but those doggone low word counts.

As always, comments are welcome. Until next time, happy reading! And happy fast writing!

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Why I Read Indie Books

Why do I read indie books? Well, why not? A good novel is a good novel. Doesn’t matter who wrote it now, does it? To not read indie books is akin to saying I’m not going to listen to the college or civic orchestra. Or not take my car to an independent mechanic. Or not eat homemade ice cream. I mean, get real—who doesn’t like homemade ice cream?

There are thousands of great writers out there. A few are traditionally published. Most are self-published. To not read books written by independent author/publishers is depriving oneself of life’s little pleasures. Like not eating homemade ice cream.

Steve Bargdill recently reblogged Stephen Hunt’s very valid post on this subject. Read it on Steve’s blog. In reading Hunt’s list, I started thinking why I read indie books. So, in no particular order, here are my reasons for reading books from independent author/publishers.

Good Writing

I’m impressed with the quality of indie writing. There are good writers out there who’s work may never have seen the light of day under the hegemony of the traditional publishing empire. Thank goodness the walls of that citadel have been breached and like the Bastille and Jericho, the walls have tumbled down!

A good writer is a good writer. It doesn’t matter how the book is published. Some writers who’ve impressed me are Lindsey Buroker, J Evan Stuart, Steve Bargdill, Crispian Thurlborn, Ben Willoughby, Erik Ga Bean, CM Muller, Janice Croom, and Jack Tyler. The list goes on and on and on. In coming days I’ll be reviewing some of the gems these writers have given to us.

I’ve already reviewed a few and you can find links to those earlier reviews on my review page.

Just because a person chooses the route of author/publisher doesn’t mean he or she can’t “cut it”. That he or she isn’t good enough to be published by the traditional publishers. That is, though, what the mega-corporations, academia, and book snobs everywhere would have you believe. However, simple economics (70% royalty vs 10%, minus agent commission) dictates self-publishing is the better publishing option. There’s also control of one’s work. Why should I give my hard-earned stories to some greedy corporate entity? In addition we have many formerly traditionally published authors who’ve abandoned the Big Boys for self-publishing. The reasons given are usually control of one’s work and money. Authors such as JA Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, Linda Gillard, Rebecca Cantrell, Harry Bingham, and Claire Cook. Or Brenna Aubrey who turned down a super deal in order to self-publish.

Good writing is good writing. Simple as that. And there are thousands of good writers out there. More than I can read in this lifetime.

Cost

Quite literally, I get more bang for my buck with indie authors. I can easily buy two or three indie ebooks for the price of one from the Big Boys. And since there’s no money tree in my backyard, the price of the book is important.

I no longer buy new books from the Big 5 Publishers. I buy them used. My wallet is more important than the big corporation’s bottom line or the author’s income. Sorry traditionally published authors, but that’s a fact of economic life.

Recently, I read Janice Croom’s self-published Death of an Idiot Boss. It’s only $2.99 in the Kindle store and it was a great read. Cara Black’s Penguin/Random House published Murder in the Marais is $7.99 in the Kindle store and the writing is not as good as Ms Croom’s. In fact, I stopped reading Murder in the Marais because I found the book boring.

Out of 241 reviews, Ms Black’s book only has a 3.6 star reviewer rating on Amazon. Yet Ms Black has garnered New York Times and USA Today bestseller status. What is wrong with that picture? My money is going to Ms Croom. Sorry Ms Black. But bestseller status can’t make boring writing good.

Diversification

Politically and economically, I am in the libertarian camp. On the issue of rights, I am a Lockean and not a Hobbesian. That is, I am all for the individual and opposed to the state and mega-corporations that function like states.

Therefore, when it comes to the issue of publishing, I’m philosophically opposed to mega-corporations with their latent totalitarian market approach dictating what I can or cannot read.

I don’t like Amazon. There’s a lot not to like about Bezos’s monster. Yet it was Amazon with the Kindle that made the indie revolution possible. Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords have all followed in Amazon’s wake. Indie authors routinely report 80% of their income comes from Amazon. Bezos’s monster is a force to be reckoned with. Something traditional publishers simply hate.

Only Apple has the ability to seriously challenge Amazon and the fact they haven’t says something. Germany’s Tolino e-reader was originally going to challenge the Kindle worldwide. So far the device stays Eurocentric.

I’d love to see the indie marketplace diversify. So far it hasn’t. It is pretty much an Amazon lake. However, that is not all bad. What Amazon did do is crush the iron grip traditional publishers had on the world of publishing. Amazon’s direct marketing made self-publishing viable and has increased the viability of the small press, as well. And those are all good things. One day, someone will come along and bring the mighty Zon to its knees — and that will be a good thing too. There can never be too much competition.

Redefining Categories

Repeatedly I’ve run across indie authors who decided to go the self-publishing route because their books didn’t fit the cookie cutter molds set up by the traditional publishing mega-corporations. One size does not fit all.

Even Amazon has not fully caught up here, although the writer can ask Amazon to list his or her book in one of their secret micro-categories. What Amazon needs to do is to give writers the choice up front to list their book in a micro-category.

Indie authors are pushing the envelope on length restrictions and rigid categories. I’ve watched the BISAC codes slowly incorporate some of these new or redefined categories. I’m waiting for Dieselpunk to get its own code one of these days.

One cannot put creativity into a box. Traditional publishing isn’t about creative freedom. It’s about money. It’s about Hobbesian control, structure, and order at the expense of creative liberty.

Recap

I read indie books because the stories and writing are good. Are there clunkers out there? Sure. Just like in the traditional publishing world. Weed them out using free samples and Amazon’s Look Inside feature.

Cost is another reason I read indie. I get more reading for less money.

I also find the reading is more interesting. More creative.

And finally, diversification. Every indie book I buy helps to bring the publishing mega-corporations to their knees and brings freedom to writers. And I like freedom.

As always, comments are welcome. And until next time, happy indie reading!

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It’s A Great Time To Be A Reader!

books

Now is a great time to be a reader. With the advent of the Kindle, followed by the iPad and a host of ebook readers, we who love the written word, who love stories, are happier than a duck on a rainy day in California.

The choices available to us are, well, they might as well be infinite. We are in a bookstore or a library that never ends. We have all the free books we could ever want. We have bargain books beyond count. And the books just keep coming.

Somewhere I read 3,000 books a day are being published. Certainly I won’t want to read more than a fraction, but in the course of a year—that is 1,095,000 books published. Even if I were to attempt to read only 1%, that would mean I’d need to read 10,950 books or 30 books a day. Not possible, unless I was a speed reader in overdrive with the afterburners kicked in and I had nothing else to do in the day.

The choices are amazing. The indie revolution is a readers dream. The publishing world’s Big 5 hegemony has been broken by the DIYers. Anyone can now write and publish a novel or short story or a work of nonfiction. No longer is an editor sitting behind closed doors determining what we can read. The marketplace is like a ginormous bazaar and we the reader make the decision who we want to read, who we are going to support with our hard-earned dollars.

There’s no censorship either by some unknown editor, following some megacorporation’s rules. The megacorps have been defeated by the lowly indie revolutionary putting out his or her own ebook for sale on Amazon, iBooks, Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, Drive Thru Fiction, and a host of other sales sites — including one’s own blog, website, or social media platform.

The marketplace rules and corporations drool!

I’m a libertarian. That simply means the power and the rights belong to the people. Not the government with Comstock-type censorship or internet censorship, nor megacorps with their own agendas. We the reader, have the right to buy and read whatever we want as long as no one is hurt in the process. I repeat, it’s a great time to be a reader.

Recently, I read Death of an Idiot Boss by Janice Croom, an indie author. Ms Croom’s novel provided everything I wanted in a mystery story. It was a satisfying read. By contrast, I started reading Cara Black’s Murder in the Marais. A Random House megacorp book. I so wanted to like Ms Black’s book, because I love private detective mysteries. Sorry Ms Black, even though you are supposed to be a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author, your book was boring and I set it aside, only partly read, for a rousing steampunk adventure by indie author Jack Tyler: Beyond the Rails. A great read. Like Firefly gone steampunk.

Who’s going to get my reading dollars in the future? I can guarantee you, it won’t be Ms Black. Now I might try another Aimee Leduc mystery in the future, but I will buy a used copy. My dollars going to the independent used bookstore and not to Ms Black or Random House megacorp. Or I might save my money altogether and go to the library.

Traditional publishing no longer has a stranglehold on what we can read. I read somewhere that less than 200 writers each year are accepted into the Big 5’s hallowed halls of officially sanctioned authordom. And notice most are passed over for the advertising money and their books are soon found on the remainder table.

In the wake of the Big 5’s collapsing market share, the small press is gaining ground. And that is a good thing. Competition is always a good thing. However, writer’s be warned: the small press is small for a reason. That reason is lack of money, financial clout. Be careful going with a small press. Make sure you can get your book back if they go belly up.

However, in spite of Barnes and Noble’s woes and the Big 5’s woes, they aren’t going away anytime soon. Which only means good things for us readers. And that is there are LOTS of books available for us to buy and read.

The Big 5, the small press, indie author/publishers are producing new books at a phenomenal rate and that is good for us. Power to the reader! It’s a great time to be a reader.

As always, comments are welcome and until next time — happy reading!

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Book Review: Entangled by J. Evan Stuart

What makes for a good mystery? For me, it is having a sleuth who is memorable. Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Sam Spade, Phryne Fisher, Kinsey Milhone, Nick and Nora Charles, Mr and Mrs North, Hercule Poirot, Inspector Morse, Inspector Barnaby, Matt Scudder.

I don’t remember the individual cases, the puzzles the detectives solved, I remember the detectives themselves. They are colorful, unique, quirky, and have a splash of panache.

For me, the characters make the story and therefore I tend to be quite forgiving if the puzzle is less than perfect, because I don’t really care about the puzzle anyway. And this holds true for me no matter what genre I read. Give me interesting characters and I am happy, just like that proverbial clam. The story is only there to make the character shine. It is as Ray Bradbury said, create your character, let him do his thing, and there is the story.

In Entangled by J Evan Stuart, Detective Sonya Reisler is just such a sleuth. She’s memorable. She has a strong sense of justice. She wants to prove herself and is willing to take risks to do so. And she has a past.

We love angst-filled detectives, don’t we? Matt Scudder, Jackson Brody, Phryne Fisher, Aimée Leduc, my own Justinia Wright. A past the detective is trying to hold at bay or run from. A haunting past he or she can’t get rid of any more than they can get rid of their brains.

Sonya has a past. A past which forces her to make decisions she might not otherwise make and to trust people no normal police detective would trust. And that’s what makes Entangled such a good read. It is the rollercoaster ride we emotionally share with Sonya as she tries to find the real killer instead of hanging it on the easy and innocent victim which the lazy sheriff wants to do — and at the same time deal with her demons.

Not that Entangled isn’t a good story in its own right, for it is. The storyline kept me on the edge of my seat. A classic howdunit, with a whizz-bang ending. What is significant, in my opinion, is that the story is the perfect stage on which the characters can do their thing and in the process tell us their stories. To me, that is the work of a superb writer.

This debut novel by J Evan Stuart is not only exquisite entertainment, it goes deeper and addresses what touches us as human beings most deeply: namely, relationships; both their significance and importance to us as social creatures. For even the most misanthropic curmudgeon amongst us still responds to a kind word and a gentle touch.

Entangled by J Evan Stuart is very highly recommended. The book is truly a cut above and one not to be missed.

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Zeppelin Mania: Day 5-R 34 Arrives Home

R34 over RNAS Pulham 1919 copy

The R 34 over the Royal Naval Air Service station at Pulham, Norfolk in 1919.

Throughout the morning of July 13, messages of congratulations poured into the airship’s wireless room. King George, the chief of the Air Service, the Board of Admiralty, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, among many others.

From General Maitland’s log:

6.20 am—Over Pulham. Quite a number of people on the landing ground despite the early hour. Scott makes two circles of the ground, and puts the ship gently down into the hands of the landing party. Time of landing, 6.57 am. Total time of return journey from Long Island, New York, to Pulham, Norfolk, is therefore 75 hours and 3 minutes; or 3 days, 3 hours, and 3 minutes.

Seventeen years later, the faster Hindenburg’s average time from Frankfurt to Lakehurst, New Jersey was 66 hours and 37 minutes; and from Lakehurst to Frankfurt, 51 hours and 23 minutes. Certainly slower than a jet, but far and away much more luxurious. On par with a cruise ship of today.

The R 34 was a military ship. A copy of a 1916 German war zeppelin that had been captured, largely intact. A mere two years later the Germans were building even larger zeppelins, with greater range. A range they felt would enable them to bomb New York City. One of these “X” Class zeppelins, the LZ-114, was given to the French as war reparations. Renamed Dixmude, in 1923 she made a 4400 mile flight and was in the air for well over 118 hours without any problems. Her maximum range was calculated to be over 7400 miles. The specially rebuilt L 59, the Africa Ship, had a range of 10,000 miles and a payload over 104,000 pounds. She could have flown to America, bombed New York, and flown back to Germany without refueling.

At the time and for decades to come no airplane was capable of doing what the L 59, the R 34, or the Dixmude did. The airship in 1919 and in the following two decades was clearly seen as the wave of the future. Land-based passenger aircraft would not be able to cross the Atlantic non-stop until after World War II. The most famous of the 1930s flying boats, the Boeing 314 Clipper, introduced in 1939, could carry 74 passengers during the day or 36 at night, had a mere 10,000 pound payload capacity, and had a range of  3,685 miles. Certainly a plane to rival the Hindenburg, but only in speed. The airship still laid claim to greater range, payload capacity, comfort, and quiet.

So what happened? In part, the airship herself was to blame. Expensive to build, operate, and maintain, no private company was willing to expend the capital. The rigid airships that were in existence were mostly military vessels and as a weapon of war, the zepp’s days had come and gone.

The R 34 is a prime example of government neglect. The British press hailed the event and the Air Ministry ignored it and its potential for future military application. In fact, the Air Ministry went to great lengths to scrap their rigid airship program—completely ignoring the role the rigid airship could have played as a transport ship in supplying far-flung and isolated military installations with speed and efficiency. Much as the L 59 had tried to do in 1917, in her attempt to resupply the army in German East Africa.

Then, as now, the rigid airship, while not the fastest aircraft, had the ability to carry tons of cargo vast distances to anywhere in the world. The airship needs no airfield or expensive airports. The problem of huge landing crews was solved by the US Navy. A dozen men and a motorized mooring mast handled the 785 foot long (239 m) USS Akron and USS Macon.

More than anything, our desire for speed killed the airship—in spite of its practicality.

Yet, in the early days of aviation, it was Count Zeppelin’s dream that conquered the skies. The crew of the R 34 deserve high praise for their brave accomplishment. Doing what no one had done before.

Today let’s take a moment to celebrate their great achievement.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this touch of Zeppelin Mania. As always, comments are welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

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Zeppelin Mania: R34’s Flight Home Day 4

routemap-R34

The Route Map of the R-34’s Historic Double Trans-Atlantic Crossing in 1919.
The Orange Line is the Crossing from Scotland to New York and the Blue Line is the crossing from New York to Pulham.

Saturday, July 12, 1919 began beautifully. The weather began clearing and the sea was visible at 2500 feet.

At 5 am, General Maitland recorded: “Magnificent sunrise; the sun slowly appears above the cloud bank ahead of us in a blaze of golden light, and we head straight into it.”

An hour later, the ship is running on three engines only as the after engine is being repaired. The airspeed is 32 knots. Major Scott takes the ship down to 900 feet to sight the water. Ground speed is only 15 knots at that altitude, so he returns to 2800 feet where the ship’s ground speed is 36 knots, or 41 mph (67 kph). The R-34 is approximately 760 miles from her base — and home.

General Maitland wrote, “Breakfast this morning is a festive meal, as we reckon it should be our last breakfast on board, and we are rather lavish in our issues.”

Wives, families, and sweethearts are gathering at East Fortune in Scotland awaiting the ship’s homecoming. But at 10 am, the Air Ministry instructs the R-34 to land at Pulham in Norfolk, England instead. The message is not understood as the weather is better for landing at East Fortune then it is at Pulham.

By noon, the weather has turned very cold and once again the R-34 is fighting a headwind. Everyone realizes they will be breakfasting on board ship tomorrow morning and feel disappointed.

In the evening, the ship runs into two sudden squalls. Maitland notes the ship is very steady. Then at 7:25 pm land is in sight off the starboard bow and at 8 pm the R-34 crosses the coastline a little to the north of Clifden, County Mayo, Ireland. From the coast of Long Island to the coast of Ireland, flight time was 61 hours and 43 minutes.

Above the Hills and Lakes of Ireland-R34

Above the Hills and Lakes of Ireland

The euphoria is dampened however, when at 11:30 pm the Air Ministry repeats the message to land at Pulham. Major Scott increases altitude to 5000 feet and sets course for Pulham.

No explanation has ever come to light as to why the R-34 was redirected to land at Pulham instead of East Fortune. Especially when the weather, critical for airship safety in landing, was better at the Scottish base.

Patrick Abbott, in his book Airship: The Story Of R-34, gives the following possible explanation:

Those who supported only an aeroplane programme may have contrived the altered destination in order to avoid the publicity of the great welcome that was being planned at East Fortune. Pulham, by contrast, was comparatively isolated… so ensuring the minimum fuss and excitement. If this theory is true—and it accords with later policy development and the shabby treatment soon meted out to everyone on board—then the manoeuvre was an unworthy affront to servicemen who could neither disobey nor complain.

I think Mr Abbot makes a valid point. Given the subsequent history of the British government’s bureaucratic antipathy towards building and maintaining an airship fleet, it seems only logical the R-34 and her crew ended up as victims of bureaucratic politics and cost-cutting excuses.

Britain was in an admirable position to seize the day and exploit the commercial possibilities of the airship. However, as with their American cousins, the British largely saw the airship as a military craft. However World War I had clearly shown the future of the giants was not as a weapon of war, but as a tool of peace. Only Doctor Hugo Eckener of the Zeppelin company realized this and was intent on pursuing the true future of the rigid airship. If he’d had the capital and didn’t have the animosity of the Allies and their wreaking of vengeance on the German people, he would have succeeded.

Stay tuned! Tomorrow the epic voyage comes to an end. Prepare to give the memory of those brave men the recognition they truly deserve. A recognition denied them in their day due to petty politics.

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Zeppelin Mania: R34’s Flight Home Day 3

Control Car R34

Control Car
Flight-Sergt. Watson steering. Flight-Sergt. Mayers at the elevator wheel. Altimeter (large dial) needle shows the ship is at about 1,200 feet above the sea.

Friday, July 11, 1919 started out with clear weather and a moderate sea. A planned flyover of London had to be abandoned when one of the two engines in the rear car broke down and could not be repaired. Later in the day, the forward engine had to be shut down to replace broken valve springs.

Otherwise the day was uneventful. The airship made good and rapid progress towards home base in Scotland.

Below are extracts from General Maitland’s log to give a first-hand flavor to the idyllic world of airship travel, even in a military ship.

10.30 pm—Beautiful cloudscapes on port beam. Cloud formations, in so far as they indicate whether, are like an open book profusely illustrated, and with a story that changes almost completely every few hours.

12.30 pm—Lunch. Meal-times are always most welcome, as they give the more responsible members of the crew a much-needed interval.

The new gramophone [given by Edison, himself] is going strong after lunch and, as I was descending the ladder into the forward car, I caught a glimpse of Luck and Harris doing quite a nice one-step together!

3.30 pm—Still at 3000 feet; in and out of the clouds. We have not seen the sea since 8:30 am.

4.30 pm—Scott brings his ship down for a glimpse of the sea, and so get an idea of our speed; but at 900 feet [the clouds are] still quite thick and he abandons the attempt.

Coming down from the 3800-foot level to the 900-foot level, we pass through no less than five distinct and separate layers of cloud, of which every two layers contain a world in themselves, with separate sky above and cloud horizon beneath. A most fascinating spectacle, and one which impresses me more, perhaps, then anything I have yet seen on either journey.

4.45 pm—We emerge above the clouds for a few blissful moments, and see a beautiful cloud panorama—range upon range of alternate white and slate colored mountains with wide deep valleys, and an occasional glimpse of bright blue sky immediately above.

The glare is almost blinding, and we can only look at them for a moment moment or two at a time.

7.05 pm—Passing through wet rain cloud—it has been raining very heavily since five o’clock.

Scott tries the 5000-foot level in the hopes of getting out of it, but with no success, so returns to the 3000-foot level. Very cold and dark, and all doors and windows shut.

8pm—Supper, and a very good one too. We are well equipped with little luxuries, having learnt from experience on the outward journey exactly what is necessary and what isn’t.

Delicious fresh honey, also “candies”, and chocolates… The gloom does not affect our appetites in the very slightest.

Crew Space Inside R34 Hull

Crew Space Inside Hull
One of the crew peeling potatoes for dinner. Lieut. Shotter and Sergt. Gent in background.

11.25 pm—On long journeys like these, it is the engineers upon whom the heaviest strain falls and, on the outward journey, some of them had difficulty in sleeping when off watch. On this return journey we issue them a “tot” of rum before turning in, with very beneficial effect. [Note: an engineer on an airship is a mechanic and had responsibility to keep the engines running smoothly at all times, as well as perform any other mechanical repairs that were needed.]

12 midnight—Still pouring with rain… the whistling of the wind completely deadens the distant hum of our engines. It is indeed a “dirty” night at sea. For some reason or other I cannot get off to sleep, and lie awake in my hammock with a feeling of complete confidence and security…

I think the General summed up flying by airship quite wonderfully: “a feeling of complete confidence and security”. Especially in 1919, when a one- or two-seater open cockpit airplane, flying in “a ‘dirty’ night at sea”, would have been an experience worthy of a new level in Dante’s Inferno.

Stay tuned! The R 34’s voyage continues tomorrow!

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Zeppelin Mania: R34’s Flight Home Day 2

Cloud Shadows on the Atlantic

Cloud Shadows Thrown Upon the Atlantic.
Photo by Major Pritchard taken from the R 34.

The R34 is up and away, having taken off a little before midnight on the 9th of July. Promising the people of New York City a flyover, the zeppelin heads west and is soon over the city. General Maitland recorded the event:

New York at night looks wonderful from a height of 1000 feet — miles and miles of tiny bright twinkling lights. We wonder if it is necessary to go higher to avoid bumping into the “skyscrapers”, so Scott puts her up to 1500 feet to be quite sure! The searchlights at first make some very unsuccessful attempts to find us, and their beams are “feeling” through the sky in every direction. Finally they get us fair and square over Fifth Avenue.

The Times Square, Broadway, is a remarkable sight—we see thousands of upturned faces in spite of the early hour (1 am), and the whole scene is lit up by the gigantic electrical sky signs.

The air over New York feels very disturbed, partly owing to the approaching cyclone from the Great Lakes, of which we have already had warning, and partly also to the heat rising upwards from the city itself; in spite of this the ship is very steady.

Flyover completed, the R34 turns east and begins her 3000 mile journey home. With a strong tail wind to start her voyage, the ship is making nearly 80 miles an hour ground speed. The weather is good and the day is quiet and routine.

Lunch, served at noon, is cold bologna sausage and pickles, stewed pineapple, and a ration of rum. Maitland notes the rum “is much appreciated, as the weather has turned much colder.”

By 4.50 pm, the R34, with the help of the wind, had covered a third of the distance home, when the General noted the wind had finally dropped and the sea below them was a deep blue.

At 6.15 pm a five-masted schooner is sighted about 5 miles away and Maitland is quick to observe “What an interesting contrast between the old and the new — the sailing ship and the airship!”

Supper was served at 8 pm and consisted of “fresh boiled eggs and cocoa, preceded by a cocktail mixed by Scott. Apparently some Thermos flasks full of cocktail ingredients had been handed in by some anonymous well-wisher, and we try them as an experiment. Decide they are just as good in the air as on the ground!”

Not mentioned in any secondary source I have on the voyage is the gramophone that was on board. The officers and crew of the R34 indulged in some high-flying jazz!

Maitland also noted the very favorable impression everyone had of the Americans they’d met and that “Quite a number of charming ladies declared their intention of making the return trip as ‘stowaways’, and the ship was carefully searched before starting.”

With cocktails, jazz, and fond remembrances, the men of the R34 motor on into the night.

Stay tuned! There’s more to come on this epic voyage!

Interior of R34

Interior of R 34 showing Walking Way and Petrol Tanks.
Taken on board during flight by Major Pritchard.

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